The First American Political Conventions: Transforming Presidential Nominations, 1832-1872 by Stan M. Haynes, McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, www.mcfarlandpub.com, 2012, 276 pages, Paperback, $55.00, ISBN: 978-0-7864-6892-8, Ebook ISBN: 978-0-7864-9030-1.
With the current political environment, this is a great time to review The First American Political Conventions: Transforming Presidential Nominations, 1832-1872. I may be a little more informed of the election process, being in the legal industry, then the average American. But I was quite surprised with how the first conventions were created and what procedures is still part of the current conventions from those earlier versions. In recent elections, in my opinion, the conventions have merely become a showcase for the last candidate standing. We all know who the presidential candidate is before the convention begins. But the original purpose of the convention was to choose the candidates before they were presented to the country for election. The creation of the conventions was the first step in having citizens choose the candidates. Before that Congress chose the Presidential candidates to fill the void of the Constitution, which created the Electoral College. State legislatures and not the People chose the Electoral College for half of the states.
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States. (U.S. Constitution, Art. 2, Sec. 1)
To fill the void Congressional Caucuses nominated presidential candidates, the first being held in 1796. At that point the political parties were: Anti-Federalist or Republications, who nominated Thomas Jefferson (President) and Aaron Burr (V.P) and the Federalists, who nominated John Adams (President) and Thomas Pinchney (V.P.). But because of the votes for each candidate, John Adams (71 electoral votes) and Thomas Jefferson (68 electoral votes) received the two highest votes. Because of this John Adams was nominated as the presidential candidate and Thomas Jefferson the vice-presidential candidate.
This was just the beginning of discovering the flaws with the Electoral College. The problem of tied votes was corrected in 1804 by the 12th Amendment. But that wasn’t the end of the problems with the system. The main problem being, that Congressional members, were nominating the candidates without the input of the People. As it should be the People were complaining. This caucus system was known as Washington insiders picking the President. Sound familiar? This information is how the book begins. Interested yet?
Once national conventions were invented, an American only process to elect presidents, for the 1832 election, where do you think a majority of the first political conventions took place? A good bet may be New York City, since it was the first capital of the United States, most populous city and of course the financial center. Another good guess would have been Philadelphia, the city that gave birth to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Any other guess? I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. The first national conventions took place in Baltimore. Why you may ask? You’ll have to read the book.
If you also want to find out about the conventions for the Whigs, Anti-Masons, Anti-Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, National Republicans, American/Know-Nothings, Constitutional Union, Liberal Republicans, Republicans and Democrats you’ll have to read the book.
If you want to experience Henry Clay’s frustration in not being elected President, Andrew Jackson’s political manipulation for his successor and Abraham Lincoln’s nomination for two terms, you’ll have to read the book.
I’ll give you three descriptive words: Beginnings - Intrigue – Tradition.
Want to know more? Then you know where to go: The First American Political Conventions: Transforming Presidential Nominations, 1832-1872.
Recommendation: This title would be a good choice for your collection on the early trials of creating a new country. It would also support a political studies program or political practice. And of course this would be a good recommendation for anyone interested in the beginnings of the election and convention process.
Janice E. Henderson (email@example.com) is a Law Librarian Consultant / Trainer in New York, NY.